VP candidate Bello talks to Mindanawons via Candid Dates 2022

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 25 March) —  Prof. Walden Bello, declared “persona non grata” by the Davao City Council on March 22, will discuss his platform of government and answer questions from voters in an online forum, Candid Dates 2022, on Friday, March 25 at 2 p.m. 

Candid Dates 2022, a series of online conversations between Mindanawon voters and candidates running for President, Vice President and local seats in the May 9, 2022 elections, is presented by the Davao Association of Catholic Schools (DACS) and co-presented by the Initiatives for International Dialogue, MindaNews and the Mindanao Consortium of Ateneo  comprising the Ateneo de Davao, Zamboanga and Cagayan de Oro. It is livestreamed via the Facebook page of the Ateneo de Davao University.

Candid Dates 2022 has featured Presidential candidates Ernesto Abella, Norberto Gonzales and Leodegario “Ka Leody” de Guzman whose running mate is Bello, and local candidates, Ruy Elias Lopez who is challenging Acting Mayor Sebastian Duterte for the post of Davao City mayor and Maria Victoria “Mags” Maglana who is running against reelectionist Rep. Paolo Duterte in the first congressional district. The offices of the Duterte siblings acknowledged receipt of the letters of invitation from the organizer but have not confirmed attendance. 

Invited candidates can choose their preferred day and time for the online forum. 

Running under the Partido Lakas ng Masa, Bello, professor and former Akbayan party-list representative, confirmed his attendance in mid-March, days before the Comelec-organized PiliPinas Debates 2002 featuring the vice presidential candidates on March 20 where he called presidential candidate Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and running mate Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, “cowards” and “jokers” for not showing up during the debates. The presidential debate was held a day earlier. 

In Sunday’s debate, Bello called on the Comelec to “impose stronger penalties” on former Senator Marcos and Davao City Mayor Duterte because in the absence of the frontrunners, “this (debate) is becoming a big joke.” 

He referred to the two as “duwag” (cowards) and “jokers.” 

Bello noted at the start of the debate that he “really would like to hear from Sara Duterte. I don’t know why she doesn’t appear here in this debate. Face the Filipino people. I think she should be here.”

Midway through the two-hour-and-thirty-minute debate, however, Bello’s response when asked what expertise he would bring in to their administration should they win, was: “You know what, Miss (Ruth) Cabal (the debate moderator), I hesitate to answer that question because this is becoming a big joke. Sara Duterte is not with us, okay. We’re slashing one another for her benefit? I mean the Commission on Elections should do something about this.”

“Commissioner, Chair,” he addressed Saidamen Pangarungan, who was appointed chair on March 8 by President Rodrigo Duterte, the father of absentee Sara, “maari ba, can you penalize these two people – Marcos and Sara Duterte – for not showing themselves up .. with their programs so that masuri ho ng Filipino people yung kanilang record at saka yung programs nila?”

He said the penalty being imposed – not allowing them in the Comelec’s e-rallies is “my God, ang hina ho noon” (that’s so weak). 

“We need stronger penalties for these people no kasi ho this is so undemocratic that they are not here. I’m tempted to walk out right now, you know, because precisely we’re making fools of ourselves without this person who is just clapping up there… Mr. Chair, can you answer this?” Bello asked. 

“We need your answer. You are the Commission on Elections. You can penalize these two jokers – Marcos and Duterte for not showing up.  They’re spitting in the face of the Filipino people. Can you say something right now? Tell them to show up?” Bello asked. 

“Purely voluntary”

Pangarungan, whom the moderator earlier acknowledged to be present at the Sofitel hotel, venue of the debate, did not reply. Later he told reporters that attendance in the debates is “purely voluntary.” 

“We cannot force candidates who refuse to participate,” said Pangarungan, who was appointed by President Duterte as chair of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos in July 2018 and was named Comelec chair early this month. 

But Pangarungan said they will address through a resolution this problem on absenteeism in debates during their en banc session on Wednesday. 

Another newly-appointed Commissioner George Garcia said the Comelec en banc will discuss  “what more can we do, what other sanctions” can be imposed on candidates who will not attend the next debates but he stressed that Comelec “can only implement laws” and “there should be a law” on sanctions for those who skip debates. “Comelec cannot impose penalties that are not provided by law,” said Garcia who was a lawyer for Marcos in his vice presidential bid in 2016. Garcia had inhibited himself from participating in pending cases before the Comelec involving Marcos and his former clients. 

The next PiliPinas Debate for Presidential candidates is on April 5. The poll body has scheduled three Presidential and two Vice Presidential debates. 

‘Big joke’

Cabal reminded Bello he still had time to answer the question but Bello said: “No. Am really so pissed off that these two jokers are not here. Duwag sila (they’re cowards) and yet they’re going to … we can’t show their records. They have to show up so that the Filipino people can judge. Otherwise this is a f_cking big joke.”

Cabal said the Comelec had explained there would be penalties but Bello said “It’s so weak, it’s so weak. You cannot take part (in the) e-rally. What kind of penalty is that? We need to get something from these people to penalize them, like a big huge penalty like 203 billion pesos. That’s what’s needed at this point in time.”  

Bello was referring to the 203.8 billion pesos of unpaid estate taxes of the Marcoses that the Bureau of Internal Revenue said it again demanded from the Marcos heirs in a letter on December 2, 2021. 

The camp of Manila Mayor and Presidential bet Ishko Moreno had earlier asked the BIR if it sent a demand letter to the Marcos heirs. A Philippine Star report said Moreno expressed fears that if Marcos is elected and be in power for six years, payment of the PhP 203.8 billion could be waived. 

Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio had earlier said the written demand has to be renewed every five years for the debt to be collectible.  Lito Banayo of Moreno’s campaign team said the last written demand was made in 2017.

Five years from 2021 is 2026. The term of the next President is from June 30, 2022 to June 30, 2028. 

Corruption, courtship 

On the issue of corruption, Bello said he would “focus on cleaning up Davao” and cited the coastal road project which he claimed costs one million pesos per meter, the public utility bus system which he alleged “defrauded so many people and consolidated the whole PUB system into three bus companies” and  “Davao as the drug center of the south under the control of a member of the Duterte family.” 

The last allegation triggered a response from the mayor’s regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP) which tagged Bello as a “narcopolitician in a way that he withheld information crucial in the government’s anti-drug campaign” and that it had “already requested for an investigation into the extent of Mr. Bello’s knowledge and involvement in the illegal drug trade in Davao City.” Bello dismissed as “ridiculous” the HnP’s reference to him as a narcopolitician, that he has “never even been rumored to be involved in the drug trade – unlike certain members of the Duterte family.”

The Davao City Council on March 22 denounced Bello’s “malicious claims” about Davao during the debate and declared him “persona non grata.” Bello said he was “unconcerned and unbothered” by the declaration.  (see other story).

Senatorial candidate Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, founding Dean of the Dela Salle University College of Law, said the declaration of persona non grata by a local government unit can be questioned. “Ang tanong kasi dyan ay saan  nanggagaling yung legal authority ng isang LGU na magdeklara ng persona ng  non grata dahil  effectively, yan ay curtailment sa freedom of movement  at sa right to travel ng kung sino man ang na-declare na persona non grata and of course these are constitutional rights. They cannot just be curtailed like that.”

Diokno noted that declaring an individual as ‘persona non grata’ has been going on for sometime and that they have monitored instances when such a declaration was made even if without any basis. He said the state has the power to prohibit or stop the entry of a foreigner for a cause but “iba naman yung situation pagdating sa LGU dapat merong statutory authority. Kaya nga, tanong ko, nasaan nanggagaling, ano ang statutory authority?” 


Aside from Sunday’s PiliPinas debate, Mayor Duterte was also a no-show in the CNN Vice Presidential Debate on February 26. Marcos was also absent in the CNN Presidential Debate on February 27 and at the GMA-7 Presidential Debate. But he attended the Presidential Debate of SMNI on February 15. 

The Davao City-based SMNI (Sonshine Media Network International), owned by President Duterte’s friend, Apollo Quiboloy, the self-proclaimed “Son of God” who is wanted by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation for fraud and sex-trafficking, canceled the Vice Presidential Debate supposedly scheduled on February 22.

Only Marcos, labor leader Leodegario “Ka Leody” De Guzman, former Presidential spokesperson Ernie Abella and former Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales attended the February 15 debate.  (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)